By COREY L. TURNER | Humble News
Thanks to his life-saving heart transplant, Leon has been able to not only experience life, but encourage others about why becoming an organ donor is so important to survivors like him.
Now nearly 14 years later, the sophomore at Kingwood Park once again finds himself of the waiting list patient for a second heart transplant.
“It’s hectic,” Leon said. “When you go to school, you never know when you are going to get that call. You can get it tomorrow, you can get it today, I could get it right now. It has been nerve wrecking and it’s been scary.”
Leon has been back on the waiting list since May 2010 and his family is hopeful that call will come.
According to Donate Life Texas, a new name is added to the national transplant waiting list every 13 minutes. And every day, 17 people die waiting for a life-saving organ transplant.
But like Leon, many people are also saved each day thanks to a decision someone made to be an organ, tissue eye donor.
Kingwood Middle School Principal Bob Atteberry is one of those people and some would call him an unusual candidate.
He was known to most of his friends and family as an athletic and healthy guy before his life changed years ago.
“I was probably the guy that was most unlikely to have a problem to my peers and my family,” Atteberry said. “At the time I found out I had heart problems, I ran about six to seven miles a day. I was one of those folks that was addicted to running and competitive athletics.”
But one day while playing basketball with students and coaches as a student teacher at Westfield High School the incident happened.
“I was playing basketball and having a great time,” Attebery said. “I was running down the court and I felt something I had never felt before. I felt like I was going to pass out. I remember going to my knees and that is all I remember.”
Attebery’s next memory is waking up in the ER at the hospital, surrounded by friends and family. A week later, after a series of test, he received word he had a mass on his heart. He had surgery to remove a tumor the size of a tennis ball and received a defibrillator and pacemaker which he says worked fine for 15 years.
But doctors suggested he get on the transplant list and he was added after a series of test.
“A lot of people don’t realize how hard it is just to get on the transplant list,” he said. “You have to go through a lot of test and they really try to weed out the people who have health issues or aren’t going to take care of themselves.”
It proved to save his life following a second incident while eating dinner with his family during the Thanksgiving holiday six years ago.
“The doctor told me I wasn’t leaving the hospital without a transplant,” he said. “That was a life changing event. I remember laying there thinking to myself, everything is going to be fine.”
Attebery says he remembers the day he received the news that a transplant had been found and his life had once again been saved.
“I had three young boys at the time and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the people who have to make the decision,” said Attebery of people who choose to donate. “The first week after I got home, I really went through a hard time of trying to understand why I got to live and somebody didn’t.”
LifeGift is a nonprofit organ procurement organization which recovers organs and tissue for individuals needing transplants in 109 Texas counties in North, Southeast, and West Texas. It is one of several organizations that helps saves lives around the country.
Elvia Valdez, works with LifeGift, and she is on a mission to help people like Leon and to educate more Texans on the importance of becoming organ donors. “My job is full of highs and lows,” she said. “I am a new mother and you learn to appreciate the beautiful things in life.”
In 2005, Texas lawmakers passed legislation that created a state registry of donors. The 2007 Legislature renamed it the Glenda Dawson Donate Life-Texas Registry, in memory of Representative Dawson’s contributions to promote organ, tissue and eye donation in Texas.
Today, 1,374,258 Texans are listed in the registry, but Valdez says that number is far too low.
“This is ok, but with 17 million-plus licensed drivers in the state of Texas, we know we can do much better,” she said.
She says having more people like Leon and Attebery to help educate others is important to help people understand more about the donating process. Valdez says one of the most important thing for families to do is have the conversation with love ones.
Other side of coin
Few people understand that more than Kingwood businessman Fred Rosenberg
Along with his wife, Karen, Rosenberg sat down with his two kids and informed them that their parents wanted to be donors if something were to happen to them. And during that discussion, both of their sons also expressed the desire to be donors as well.
A year later, that conversation proved to be helpful.
In 1992, his son Mike was riding in car with friends from Kingwood High School when their car was struck by a drunk driver on Kingwood Drive. Rosenberg’s son, along with three other Kingwood High School students, were injured when the car T-boned their vehicle at 70 MPH. Mike and one of the other passengers were life-lighted to the emergency room that night.
Following a series of tests, Rosenberg and his wife were informed that their son had no brain activity. That news led to the hardest decisions Rosenberg has ever had to make.
Once his son was taken off life support, he was asked if Mike was going to be a donor or not.
“Making the donation of Mike’s organs was easier because we discussed it. We knew what his wishes were,” Rosenberg said.
As a result, Mike saved four people’s lives thanks to his heart, his kidneys and his liver.
“If it wasn’t for Mike’s decision to a donor, those people might not have lived,” Rosenberg said. “It was so important that we discussed. Not everyone is going to be a donor, but all of us could be a recipient and it is important to discuss that the family. It is important to know that is something does happen, everybody knows what the wishes are. We miss Mike, but we also feel his life was important to four people and we will never regret that.”
Myths and Facts
Following are the facts about donation provided by LifeGift.
If I am in an accident and the hospital knows that I want to be an organ and tissue donor, the doctors will not try to save my life.
Organ and tissue recovery takes place only after all efforts to save your life have been exhausted and death has been legally declared. The medical team treating you is completely separate from the transplant team. The organ procurement organization (OPO) notifies the transplant team following consent to donation.
Donation will mutilate my body.
Donated organs and tissues are removed surgically, in a routine operation similar to open-heart surgery. Donation doesn’t prevent an open-casket funeral or viewing.
I don’t need to tell my family that I want to be an organ and tissue donor because I have it written in my will.
By the time your will is read, it will be too late to recover your organs and tissues. Register to become an organ and tissue donor today atwww.DonateLifeTexas.org, and share your decision with your
I am not the right age for organ or tissue donation.
Organs may be donated from newborns to about age 75. There is no age limit for tissue donation. At the time of your death, the appropriate medical professionals will determine whether your organs are usable.
Only the heart, liver and kidneys can be transplanted.
Needed organs include the heart, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, liver and intestines. Tissues that can be donated include the eyes, skin, bone, heart valves and tendons.
For more information or to become a donor, log onto www.lifegift.org